National pride at stake in 4 Korea-Japan football matches

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National pride at stake in 4 Korea-Japan football matches

Four K-League clubs will wage Korea-Japan rivalry matches this week as they enter the third round of the first group stage of the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL).

FC Seoul will host Vegalta Sendai tonight at the Seoul World Cup Stadium while the Pohang Steelers will take on Sanfrecce Hiroshima in Hiroshima. Tomorrow, the Suwon Bluewings will host Kashiwa Reysol while the Jeonbuk Motors will visit the Urawa Red Dragons.

Seoul is the only K-League club leading a group stage. It is leading Group E with four points. But the lead is only two points with four more games to play.

Seoul is also desperate to create momentum, which it has lacked in the 2013 season of the K-League Classic. The 2012 defending champions have failed to win the first four games of the season.

Seoul coach Choi Yong-soo, who played in the J-League for five years through 2005, said playing against a Japanese team will be an additional motivation for a victory.

“Our pride is at stake at this game,” Choi told a media briefing yesterday.

“For me, a Korea-Japan match has been different from other games since I was a child. I don’t want to lose, never. I will treat this game as a nation-versus-nation game.

“We will show the competitiveness of Korean football to a representative of the J-League,” he said.

For the Steelers, tonight’s game against Hiroshima really lives up to the spirit of a Korea-Japan rivalry. Pohang started the season with no foreign players for the first time in the club’s history, due to budget cuts by its sponsor, Posco, but it is leading the K-League Classic.

“This will be a crucial game for advancing to the Round of 16,” Pohang coach Hwang Sun-hong said in Hiroshima yesterday. “As it is such an important match, we will mobilize all available resources.”

Hiroshima, the defending champion of the J-League, is on the verge of being knocked out in the first group stage of the ACL with two straight losses. But, it is a late bloomer. In the J-League, it lost the first game of the season, but then won two games and drew one in the next three weeks.

“Its shift from defense to attack is careful,” Hwang said. “The team employs a variant of a 3-back system, so, if we don’t focus, we could be entangled in Hiroshima’s pace.”

Hajime Moriyasu, the Hiroshima coach, also said that he will try to win the game against Pohang to stay alive. Hisato Sato, who won the goal title last year with 22 goals, has returned from a hamstring injury.

By Moon Gwang-lip, Kim Min-kyu []

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